Gambling Terms and Idioms: Slang with an explanation and some historical information.

Caravaggio, The Cardsharps, c. 1594
Caravaggio, The Cardsharps, c. 1594

Gambling Terms and Games of Chance.

We often use old gambling terms without even thinking about what we are saying or where it came from. If your interested in how terms came to be used and where they came from, then this hub should give you a few insights into our common phraseology.

This look at various gambling terms and idioms from games of chance is the first step in a larger project directed towards explaining our many English Idioms to people of other native languages who are currently studying to learn English... Along the way I hope these pages of Idioms (these as well as the other Idiom topics I post) are of use to native speakers as well... Some are funny, some may be crass... others just plain strange... enjoy.

I will sort this Alphabetically later on when I am closer to finishing this project.)

"Ace up his Sleeve" or "He has a spare (Fifth) Ace" popular usage: an Idea or scheme that is held in reserve in case it is needed. Also called a Back up Plan or Fail Safe.

"Ace in the Hole" In the Game of Poker the "Hole Card" is where one card is dealt face down and stays that way until its time to be revealed. An Ace is usually a high card or maybe even a wild card in Aces Wild... so having an Ace that pops up right when you needed it would be a good thing. Hence the term usage of "He has an Ace in the Hole".


Bet on the wrong horse: Invested in a looser, Voted for wrong politician, supported the wrong candidate or cause.

  • History: Originally a Gambling term later coined as an idiom for its many similar applications.

Bet the Farm: Put everything owned on the line to secure the bet.

Black Jack: In cards Black Jack is a natural 21 (an ace and a 10 point card) or possibly a cumulative 21 with several draw cards that added up to it.

Box cars: Two Sixes showing on the dice or domino.


Breaking Even: From a gamblers view a lost bet is lost money and a bet that brings him back to his starting funds (Even Steven) is called Breaking Even. Not winning but not losing either. It can be well said that Breaking Even is a pipe dream for the casual gambler... and a joke for those of more experience.

Common Usage:

  • "How did you do last night?" ... "Oh.. I about broke even" (Meaning that "I did not lose much, But I lost some")




Crapped out: Quit Working / Failure / Broke down

  • History: In the game of Craps a roll of 2,3 or 12 does not Pass and therefore is a failure and wasted money.

On a Roll: One win following another. One good thing after another. (Can also be used sarcastically: "Your sure on a roll today aren't you?" Or can be used Literally "Don't stop now, your on a roll!"






Short Straw: A game of chance to decide who gets the unwanted task. Several short lengths of broom straw are chosen for length that is even. One or more of those straws are shortened in length depending on the number of people being "Chosen". Each person in the group then takes a straw and the results are compared. Long and Short straws = win/lose


Shot himself in the foot. Did something that was self destructive.

Shot the wrong hoop (Made the wrong goal) (Scored own Goal) Did something that was self destructive.

Snake Eyes: Two dice (or dominoes) each showing One Dot. Usually a losing roll.



Loaded Dice: Fixed outcome. a loaded Die is a die that has been drilled into and a "Load" of lead (or gold) added to one side so that the die will usually fall with the heavy side down producing a predetermined outcome... For Ex: 6 and 6 = "Box Cars!!!" or a 4 and 3 = natural 7. This is the reason for table rules regarding the handling of the Dice by only one player and that player using only one Hand to limit potential tampering and make the players accountable and checkable for their actions... No room for sleight of hand and switching the dice.

Press your Luck or Don't Press your Luck; Pushing too far. Relying on the past performances to continue into the future. Relying on Chance Events to continue favoring your cause... "Your Pressing your luck" means "You're headed for disaster".

Put all his eggs in the same basket. Risky maneuver with everything riding on the hope of success in one risky situation.


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